STARKVILLE, Miss. — Mississippi State has had three disappointing weeks in a row.
Arkansas had had three disappointing months.
But both the Bulldogs (7-3, 3-3 Southeastern Conference) and Razorbacks (4-6, 2-4) say they have plenty of confidence heading into their game on Saturday in Starkville. Arkansas has won three games in a row in the series.
“There’s fight left in us. There’s no question,” Arkansas quarterback Tyler Wilson said. “I think everybody has pride. I’ve always talked about pride as you know. I’m going to be prideful in what I do. Every throw that I make on film is on film for good, will be forever. You guys can go back 20 years from now and archive every throw. So, why not make it the best I can make it and limit those balls, like a couple of them I had on Saturday, and try to throw some in there and get us in the end zone.”
Arkansas is still fighting for bowl eligibility, but must win its final two games.
Much more was expected from the Razorbacks at the beginning of the season. But things started unraveling last spring, when coach Bobby Petrino was fired in April, soon after the scandal that erupted following Petrino’s motorcycle accident that involved his mistress.
Interim coach John L. Smith has tried to keep Arkansas on track, but it’s been a rocky season. The Razorbacks have lost two of their last three, including a 38-20 loss to South Carolina last week.
Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen said his team still respects Arkansas. The Razorbacks still have several NFL prospects — including quarterback Tyler Wilson and receiver Cobi Hamilton — and have been competitive in most games.
“They still have all that talent on the roster and they’re very dangerous,” Mullen said. “Now their backs are against the wall, they have to win out to get to a bowl game. They’ve been backed into a corner and I imagine they’re going to come out fighting.”
Mississippi State has its own issues. The Bulldogs won their first seven games this season, but have lost consecutive games against Alabama, Texas A&M and LSU by a combined 76 points.
A surprisingly porous defense and a stagnant running game have been the most serious problems.
But the Bulldogs expect starting running back LaDarius Perkins to return for Saturday’s game. He missed the LSU game with a strained quadriceps muscle. Perkins has rushed for 804 yards and eight touchdowns this season.
He should help take some of the burden from quarterback Tyler Russell, who has thrown for 2,249 yards, 17 touchdowns and four interceptions this season.
Smith said Russell’s breakout season has made Mississippi State’s offense much different than in previous years.
“I don’t know if they have had the play from the quarterbacks in the past that they are getting from this guy,” Arkansas coach John L. Smith said. “I really think the guy they have got now is giving them great play and opportunities to win. So I guess if I had to pick one thing that would to me be the thing that stands out.”
Russell said Mississippi State’s three straight losses have been disappointing, but the Bulldogs haven’t lost focus.
“We’ve had some bad breaks the past few games and we’ve made some mistakes,” Russell said. “But we’ve corrected them and the attitude in practice has been really good.”
Arkansas feels the same way. Wilson should have good memories from playing Mississippi State last season.
He completed 32 of 43 passes for 365 yards and three touchdowns in the 44-17 victory.
But that was in Little Rock. This time, the Razorbacks will have to win amid the cowbells at Davis Wade Stadium.
“We feel like we’re playing pretty good football as far as our ideas, our schemes, I think are very good,” Wilson said. “It’s the attention to detail, it’s the little things, that are holding us back. ... The difference between winning and losing is so small, and you hear that all the time, but it really is.”